Music saves the
spirit. That’s one of the most important messages from Guitars for
Vets (G4V), a nationwide, volunteer-based organization that uses the
humble instrument to help military veterans wounded in heart and
“Is there anybody who has not been soothed by music
at some time?” asks Milwaukeean Patrick Nettesheim, G4V co-founder.
“Now imagine that you could create those sounds at will. The whole
experience can give a sense of accomplishment, purpose and
connection to the community. It is truly mediation in motion.”
Following the horrors of 9/11, Nettesheim wanted to
do something significant to help unify and heal the nation. In 2007,
through one of his guitar students, Marine Sgt. Dan Van Buskirk,
Nettesheim saw a musical path that could assist veterans struggling
with physical injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and other
emotional issues. Teaming up, the men realized guitar lessons were
opportunities for both self-expression and positive interaction.
According to Nettesheim, more soldiers have committed
suicide since the Vietnam War than have died in actual battle. He
explains that G4V provides hope and a sense of community for healing
veterans, pointing out that studies have shown that music lessons
reduce depression and improve the quality of life and health of
students. “The beauty of G4V is that, for some, learning to play a
musical instrument in a group setting provides the relaxation and
social connection they desire, while for others, opening up about
their own trauma is shared within a safe, supervised group of
understanding veteran peers,” he says.
The program is now approaching 2,500 students
graduated, with more than 25,000 lessons given at 60 chapters in 30
states. A musical background is not required to enter the program.
Participants are referred by their Veterans Affairs caseworker. Free
lessons and group sessions are administered at VA medical centers
and community-based outpatient clinics. Participating veterans range
from serving in World War II and the Korean War to current
conflicts. G4V has a female participation rate of about 10 percent —
a growing number.
Music-minded Nettesheim began playing the guitar when
he was 5 years old, pursuing the craft more purposefully at age 13.
Over the years, he has played guitar, bass, piano and trumpet in
multiple bands. He’s taught guitar since he was 16, and he enjoys
the teamwork and camaraderie formed between a student and
instructor. He also composes film scores and songs for his various
While not a veteran himself, he enthuses, “Remember
how you were as a child when you received a really awesome gift? The
reaction of the vets receiving their guitar for the first time is
much the same.”
Students have 12 weeks to attend 10 private, one-hour
lessons. After graduation, vets can keep their practice guitar or
accept a donated Yamaha guitar and its accessories, valued at about
$200. They can also attend group lessons and jam sessions with other
graduates for as long as they wish.
In addition to donations, G4V relies on volunteers to
help with lessons, chapter management and local events.
G4V grad Carlos Berumen, an Air Force staff sergeant
from 1997 to 2007, took up the guitar after hearing about the
program at the VA.
“(Playing the guitar) helps you get through issues
you may or may not have known were even there,” Berumen says. “Being
able to make progress on learning cords and playing a song is
extremely rewarding. While you’re learning a new song, that’s when
some of the other issues you have been struggling with are forced to
the front. Then you work through them as well.”